If you can’t take the heat

If you can’t take the heat

Cookin’ up a big ol’ bowl o’ chilli, USA-style. SXC

The Lone Star Saloon will be bringing a taste of Texas to Phnom Penh this Sunday at its third annual chilli cook-off

IT’S only fitting that a venue by the name of the Lone Star Saloon serves as host to Phnom Penh’s premier chilli cook-off competition. The Lone Star State is a moniker for Texas, the proudest state in the US. Among its proud legacy is a rich tradition of cooking and eating chilli; Texas proclaimed chilli its official “state food” in 1977 “in recognition of the fact that the only real ‘bowl of red’ is that prepared by Texans”. The latter sentiment is one that some in Phnom Penh would dispute.

In comes Greg Hill, Texas native and owner of the Lone Star Saloon. Although Greg has called Phnom Penh his home for the past 10 years, he wanted to bring a slice of his home cuisine to the Cambodian palate.

“Chilli cook-offs are tremendously popular in Texas as well as other parts of the States and no one was doing it here. I thought it would be a great party – and I was right.  People are really interested to come, and once they are here they are very serous about determining the best chilli.”

Greg explains the simple yet effective formula that makes the chilli cook-off an annual success.

“Basically, anyone can enter a chilli. They bring their pot of chilli to the Lone Star and we take it back to the kitchen. We randomly assign a serving order and then serve the chillis one at a time.”  

The past two competitions have seen a gradually increasing field of competitors, with six chilli entries the first year and 11 entries last year. While the majority of this year’s competitors won’t be unveiled until Sunday, at least three establishments have already committed to entering their chilli: Sharky Bar, the Garage, and Rory’s. Greg is confident that the field for this year’s chilli cook-off will be even bigger and tastier than years past.

“This year looks set to be much bigger. This is a unique event, and is always our best party of the year,” he says.

A panel of 10 judges will have the delectable responsibility of tasting and rating each chilli based on appearance, spiciness, and overall taste. A blind taste test will ensure that any biases or allegiances don’t tamper with the legitimacy of the judge’s scorecards. This year’s panel will include the respective owners of Metro, Dan Meats, and the CEO of Kingdom Beer; the other seven panel seats will be awarded to whoever signs up first. Signing up as a judge costs $12 and perks include a free T-shirt and being fed first. If being in the hot seat isn’t your cup of tea, then you can become a “taster” for $6 and eat all the chilli you can stomach.

Although past competitors have mainly stayed true to the hearty Texan chilli that Greg knows and loves, the Lone Star owner hints that spicing things up might just provide the winning recipe at this year’s cook-off.

“We have never had a Khmer-style chilli, but I welcome all entries. Chilli means many different things to different people, so we don’t place any restrictions. The only rule is that no condiments are allowed to be placed on top; for example, you can’t have your entry served loaded with cheese and sour cream. Besides that, you can make it any way you like.”

The winner will receive a $100 Lone Star bar tab (possibly higher depending on the number of entries) and, perhaps more importantly, a plaque that will be nailed on the wall of Lone Star Saloon inscribed with the victor’s name and the bragging rights that come with it – the right to call your chilli the best in Phnom Penh.